Judge Jason Panella has a mind to thrill.
"Are you here as a policeman or as a parent, Noel?" "Both."
Detective Chief Inspector Noel Bain (Philip Madoc, Doctor Who) is a good policeman and—even better—a good man. He's a tad gruff but has a finely tuned capacity to balance his sense of mercy with a driving desire for justice. It's a good thing he's the show's moral anchor too, because the Wales in A Mind To Kill is a bleak place populated with roving child gangs, serial rapists, and deranged murderers. And it's the kind of setting that makes for some compelling (and gritty) television.
A Mind To Kill, which aired sporadically in the UK between 1993 and 2002, was filmed simultaneously in English and Welsh for its audience. The show also provided some of the DNA for later productions like CSI.
Madoc gives an incredible, understated performance as the lead. Bain tends to hang back and speak as needed. He's an old-fashioned cop in a lot of ways, and relies mostly on years of experience and good teamwork to close cases. Bain doesn't shy away from using cutting-edge forensics in his investigations; he frequently works with Margaret Edwards (Sharon Morgan, Torchwood), an academic pathologist who is invaluable to Bain and his gang. They even have a crime lab-in-a-flatbed that they drive to the various scenes, usually to the locals' chagrin.
A widower, Bain spends a decent portion of each season bickering with his teenage daughter Hannah (Ffion Wilkins). Hannah is spirited, to say the least, and the heartfelt father-daughter conversations act as a nice counterpoint to the grimness of the main investigation plots. And Wales in this show is grim. Murders are brutal and usually the result of desperate working-class folks. There's a grimy sheen over all of the locales, too. We get to see a lot of scuzzy towns, scum-filled lakes, post-industrial ruins, and sparsely vegetated landscapes.
A Mind To Kill: Complete Collection rounds up the show's five seasons, all previously released in three sets. Each of the 21 episodes is movie-length.
A Mind to Kill: Series One (six episodes, 1994) has DCI Bain, professor Edwards, and Detective Sergeants Alison Griffiths (Gillian Elisa, Sherlock) and Carwyn Phillips (Geraint Lewis, Alys) solving crimes and taking names. The team gets to deal with a miners' strike, a religious cult, and a depressing number of foot chases through gross alleys. As the whole, the season is quite good; the plots are interesting and the dialog is realistic without being boring. This season has a grainy, documentarian vibe to it that feels just right for the show. A few episodes feel padded to meet the 90-minute quota, but otherwise everything is excellent. John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark) turns in a nice supporting performance in one episode as a questionable union leader.
A Mind to Kill: Series Two (seven episodes, 1997) has some of the show's most profound highs and lows. We get to see more of the personal lives of Bain and his team, and things aren't always sunshine and puppies. Hannah runs into some serious problems at university, and the effects of a gang war from the first season leave some lasting scars on our good protagonist. The best episodes, like "Bloodline" and "Head of the Valleys," are nearly perfect chunks of crime television. The worst meander as they warn about the inherent danger of pinball ("Game Plan") or tap into the vibe of Millennium.
A Mind to Kill: Series Three (eight episodes, 1998 to 2002) gets a significant production quality boost at the expense of some of the things that made the show unique. Bain is now older and wearier. His team from the first two seasons has been replaced with a revolving cast of generic cops and the mobile lab has been scrapped. Even worse, his now-grown up daughter's new occupation has turned her into the weekly damsel in distress. The episodes are fairly exciting, but feel like skeezier Law and Order: Special Victims Unit byproducts. But hey, everything looks pretty and has some snappy editing, so it evens out. The biggest blow is that Bain lacks much of the nuance that made him such a compelling character in the first two collections. Before, the show let Bain hang back and blend into the scenes, and we're never told what direction Bain's moral compass actually pointed. In Series Three, the detective is just a grumpy badass with a squint who drops exposition bombs every few minutes. Still cool, but not as cool as I would have hoped.
A Mind To Kill: Complete Collection is given a decent release by Acorn Media, even though there's nothing new here (it's just a bundling of the three series sets). The audio Dolby Digital mono (Series One) and stereo (Series Two and Three) sound fine. The unpolished 4:3 visuals in the first two series work well in the context, too. On the flipside, the 16:9 anamorphic presentation of the final series is sharp and lush, so no complaints. For extras, Acorn gives us some cast biographies, production essays, and a seven-minute clip of the Welsh language version of the show (Yr Heliwr).
Despite some problems each season, A Mind To Kill: Complete Collection is well-made television.
Ddim yn euog.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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